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The antisocial criterion for learning

There’s this cool thing in developmental psychology called the social criterion for learning. Here’s a diagram I use to describe this to my students. Imagine that you’re a baby learning words.


An adult is labeling an object for you and says BUNNY, but you happen to be looking at a chipmunk. You learn the label BUNNY for the object chipmunk and are forever confused. You don’t get into Harvard and end up homeless.

How do children avoid this trap? It turns out that they check the gaze of the person labeling an object before they learn the label. This can be seen in observational studies and in cleverly-designed controlled experiments. Not every time, and not when an adult is touching at an object (because in that case it’s not necessary–pointing substitutes for gaze), but in general.

In our house a slightly different mechanism is at work. I’ll label an object for Bunlet, and we’ll have a normal social criterion for learning exchange…but then Bun Bun will stick herself in front of him and loudly give it a different label. Often pointing to the object. She seems to be trying to confuse him. It’s like she’s using an antisocial criterion for learning.

Fortunately, she’s labeling pretty much everything as BUNNY, so I think he’ll figure that shit out at some point.

6 Comments Post a comment
  1. This made me laugh.

    March 27, 2014
  2. Bun Bun is something else… πŸ™‚
    Stevie is very different from his brother, he first opens his mouth in the morning, he is putting three words together by now, and does things that his brother basically did when he was two and a half. Or even later. Anyways.
    We are still nursing before sleep. In my native tongue we have two adult words for sleep and a kiddie version. Stevie somehow assigned the kiddie version of sleep the meaning of nursing. He understands, utters and uses appropriately the other two, but absolutely refuses to budge on the kiddie version meaning nursing. I tried to explain it all, with no results. I feigned ignorance when asked for (kiddie version of sleep), but he gets angry and starts asking even louder for milk, almost spelling it out for his dim witted mother. It is both cute and frustrating, but at least, when he asks for it in public, absolutely no one knows what he means. When he is not banging on my chest, that is. πŸ™‚ thankfully this happens very rarely.

    March 27, 2014
  3. She’s an anarchist it seems

    March 27, 2014
  4. I feel that my kids do the somewhat-older version of this, in the form of an argument. Now I have a scholarly perspective on the perpetual “You a goat!” “No, I am not a goat!” “Dat a twee!” “That is a tow truck, brother.” It’s antisocial learning.

    March 28, 2014
  5. Bun Bun: oh so sweetly interfering (or augmenting, depending on the day) with her brother’s learning since 2012.
    Interesting that this is called social criterion for learning in your world. I understand this as joint attention. Or am I conflating the two?

    March 29, 2014
  6. Oh the joys of nearly three year olds tormenting their little brothers!

    March 30, 2014

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